MP for Windsor
Working Hard For You
The leaders’ debate showed that only the Conservatives have a credible plan

As the election campaign kicked off, it was fascinating to watch the seven main party leaders set out their positions in the leaders’ debates. For those of us living in England, it demonstrated a clear choice between the coherent economic competence of the Conservatives on the one hand, and the chaos of the other parties.

It was clear throughout that Conservatives have a plan to get rid of the deficit, by bearing down on departmental spending and further reducing welfare, so that work really pays.

Yes, we are still spending more than we can afford as a country, but thanks to tough decisions taken by Conservatives in Government, the deficit has been cut by half in percentage terms in this parliament, and will be eliminated in the next. Conservatives believe it’s morally wrong to leave huge debts behind for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to pay off.

The only way to build a prosperous future that works for everyone and provide the public services we all rely on is with more jobs and a growing economy. That’s why it’s so important that we stick to the economic plan that has made us the fastest growing major economy. It is striking to note that we have created 2 million jobs which is more than any other European country. And let’s not forget that, for all the challenges facing it, the NHS has been voted the best health service in the world.

The other parties showed that they simply don’t have the plans to deliver on growth, jobs and taxes. From what I can fathom, Labour will cost the average family about £3,000 more in taxes over the next parliament, levy a tax on homes in the South-East to give more money to Scotland and has no strategy for cutting the deficit. A Labour Government, in all likelihood propped up by the SNP, would mean more taxes, higher unemployment, and unaffordable borrowing.

The other parties have no sensible plans for deficit reduction, job creation or economic growth and none of them will be willing or able to give people their say in an in/out referendum on our EU membership other than the Conservatives.

So, I guess, if you fancy a punt based on reckless promises then a vote for one of the other parties might be in order.  But if you want a bright future with the security of a grown-up Government that sticks to a sensible economic plan that’s putting people into work and our country back on top, then I’d encourage to vote Conservative on the 7th of May.

 

Digital currencies and the future of financial innovation

Among financial and techie communities, digital currencies (DC), such as bitcoin, have become the exciting development to watch.

It’s exciting because it could transform the way we transfer money in the UK. Bitcoin payments are approved via a network of other users, who verify them. Payments are instantaneous and completely transparent because a record of every single transaction is stored on users’ computers in something called the “blockchain ledger”. There is no central bank involved, no credit card fees and no lengthy waits for the money to be wired through.

Many people recognise the huge benefits and implications of this technology. Remittances, online payments, contract clearing, multi-person derivatives and crowdfunding could all be made significantly cheaper, more transparent and more efficient using digital currencies. Not to mention the wider applications for the technology such as electronic voting.

And yet, it is not being widely discussed by politicians in the UK. That’s why I was delighted to be invited to participate in a ResPublica debate entitled “Digital Currencies: Will regulation stifle innovation?” along with Steve Baker, Conservative MP for Wycombe.

My main concern is that as it stands, DC businesses can’t set up a bank account. The reason is two-fold: a regulatory environment that puts banks off dealing with these businesses, who they fear could be prone to money-laundering schemes or other crime. The second is that banks see bitcoin as a threat to their existence and, dare I say it, may want to hold up development until the banks themselves can profit from digital currency technology.

A possible solution to this hurdle is allowing bitcoin exchanges, wallets, vaults and other businesses to opt in to existing financial regulations such as those that already cover Money Service Businesses (MSBs). This would give these businesses a sense of legitimacy and recognition, allowing them to operate within a legally viable framework.

The responsibility must then lie with the digital currency industry to develop their own technical and financial standards that build trust in their businesses and help customers to feel that their investments are going to be handled wisely and securely. Banks would soon realise that if they enter this market first, the possible rewards are immense.

Once we get to that point, the remaining criticisms of digital currencies such as price volatility and financial crime will disappear.

And with the take-up of digital currency technology, the UK can position itself as the global centre of fintech innovation, allowing businesses to set up, pay taxes, employ staff, make profits and provide products that those of us who want an alternative to conventional banking can use.

But if we fail to act in the near future countries like Australia, Canada and the USA can steal a march on the UK and benefit from the investment that we should be fighting for.

Thankfully, the Chancellor and the UK Treasury recognise the opportunities. I would urge them to recognise and enable digital currencies sooner rather than later so that our doors are fully open to welcome innovative fintech businesses searching for a home.

 

Britain needs to encourage investors to come to the UK

It would be better if more foreign money was invested in British companies to create jobs and pay taxes rather than simply funding Government borrowing. The answer to a recent parliamentary question highlights the need for a change if overseas money is to help boost jobs and economic growth.

In a column written for the Huffington Post, I argue that the Government needs to strengthen the investor visa in three ways to encourage more investment in UK private companies.

Read the article on the Huffington Post.

 

This is what a hi-tech, prosperous and Conservative Britain could look like

The year is 2020.  The UK has enjoyed five years of economic prosperity and stability with a wholly Conservative government.  We are heading back to the top of global economic tables for competitiveness, employment and public sector productivity.  International businesses and investors recognise the UK as “the place to be”.  Britain is recognised as the world’s leading hi-tech nation.  Almost everyone has a tangible stake in the economy by holding shares and bonds in family businesses, mutuals and social enterprises.  Above all people are planning confidently for their future.

The vision I have set out with my colleagues in the 2020 Agenda for Transformation is optimistic, hopeful, and eminently achievable.  Policies are the tools of the trade which politicians must use to realise their longer term purposes and objectives: what kind of future do we want, and how do we get there?  It is all too easy for politicians to speak about policies without first defining a vision of the future.

It is vital that Britain knows what a Conservative country looks like.  This publication by Conservative MPs defines a vision of Britain founded on fearless optimism and sound Conservative values – and it sets out the steps to achieve that vision by presenting nothing less than a framework for the 2015 Conservative manifesto.

As co-chairs of the Economic Commission, George Freeman MP and I want to see thriving clusters in aerospace, biosciences, advanced manufacturing and digital technologies spread across the country.  To do so, we need an economic culture that embraces innovation at every level because innovation is the central driver of jobs, productivity and competitiveness in an increasingly globalised economy.  An innovation economy is one in which Britain is:

  1. Globally competitive: SMEs thrive and UK big businesses lead the world, whilst international corporations compete to base their HQs in Britain.
  2. An enterprising nation with flexible employment: tax is low and simple to administrate, and businesses are easy to set up.  Businesses compete for employees, with improving terms and conditions in the absence of major legislation.
  3. A ‘participatory economy’ where everyone has a direct stake in the economy: people own shares in businesses and mutuals, and hold stakes in cooperatives and public services.
  4. Crammed full of high-tech, high-value businesses: the UK is a global hub for science, technology and engineering.  It is the first choice world-wide for registering and exploiting intellectual property.
  5. Known to have the most productive public sector in the world: the public sector landscape is a rich mix of organisations from public bodies, mutuals and cooperatives to private trusts, businesses and investors.  Services improve year on year as these organisations compete with one another.
  6. Completely connected: people are employed and run their own businesses in their spare time.  Public services are easily selected through online apps.

The Coalition Government came together in the national interest to fix the economic mess left by the previous administration.  It has not been easy, and significant progress has been made.  Yet a managerialist approach to government will not win a Conservative majority in 2015.  The biggest challenge Conservatives now face is to set out a cogent and convincing vision of what Britain will look like after a Conservative victory in 2015.  My colleagues and I will be shaping these themes over the coming months, before setting out policies in more detail to be at the forefront of the next manifesto.

It will take nothing less than a clear and distinctive vision of the future to achieve a Conservative majority in 2015 following this unusual period of Coalition.

 

Ideas to boost innovation

From Peel to Thatcher, the concepts of science and innovation have been integral to Conservative attitudes. Indeed, as a respected research scientist, Margaret Thatcher was the embodiment of science in office.

If science is about building on acquired knowledge to inform decisions for the future – a fundamentally Conservative notion – then innovation is its perfect partner.  Innovation, as an evolutionary process, has always been a mainstay of Conservative thought.  By invoking the past to make sense of the present, science and innovation blend the most appealing aspects of the traditionalist and progressive traditions of the party, and offer a convincing route to increasing the nation’s prosperity.

Conservatives are natural innovators

Adaptation is the key to survival.  To innovate goes with the grain of human nature.  Conservatives take this outlook a step further.  We believe that people should be free to adopt new practices, rather than have ‘grand ideas’ imposed upon them by self-appointed elites in smoke-filled back rooms.  We understand the intrinsic risks of radical change, but we recognise that to stand still or retreat into the past would be equally destructive.

But what is innovation?  It is more than scientific discovery.  Innovation is about the introduction of new products, services and ways of doing things that will improve our quality of life.

The Government’s role in innovation

If government is to allow innovation to flourish in wider society, it must first introduce innovative approaches to the process of government.  It must adopt a two-track mindset: first, to incorporate innovative practices in the public sector and, second, to establish an environment in which innovation can thrive in the private sector.

At the second anniversary of the Conservative-led Coalition notable progress has been made, but the direction of travel has sometimes been muddled.  The Prime Minister has set out his vision for a more dynamic British society with bigger people and a small state, but Coalition politics naturally gets in the way of putting that vision fully into practice.  Radical and destabilising reform of the Lords is not a priority for hard-working families and job-seekers.  It will not create the jobs and prosperity that an innovative and wholly Conservative Government can bring.  It is time to reaffirm our progressive Conservative values in the modern world, not shy from them.

Open Data

Francis Maude’s efforts to embed open data as an operating principle of government will drive economic growth and improve public services.  Now could be the time for all new government IT systems to publish datasets for commercial use as the default position.

Intellectual Property

The Hargreaves review gives the Coalition has an opportunity to deliver an intellectual property framework that promotes innovation and growth.  I believe that it is also now time to give the Intellectual Property Office a new duty to market the publicly registered intellectual property in its care.

Broadband

The Government is committed to delivering the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015.  Given the state of the public finances, we cannot rely on government spending alone.  Innovation holds the key to delivering our goal.  When today’s satellites can beam high-speed internet access to every region of Britain, we must not inadvertently restrict the use of such innovative technologies that can bring instant access to remote areas.

Removing barriers to work

When I chaired the Conservative Deregulation Task Force in 2008, we sought to stimulate innovation and growth by removing unhelpful regulations.  Progress has been made – despite stiff resistance from LibDems – but there is a long way to go.  Now is the time to re-double our efforts to release private sector innovation, particularly in the area of employment law.

The pace of innovation will determine Britain’s place in the world.  We must not only embrace innovation but actively remove the obstacles to it.  The solutions to our current challenges will not come from the stranglehold of state bureaucracy and top-down control, but from placing our trust in the spirit of innovation.

But let’s be honest: even good governments are inherently bad at innovation.  We need an economy with a bigger and more vibrant private sector.  The Prime Minister has made some progress, but it is time to renew our efforts in the next Conservative manifesto.

Traditionalist or moderniser, innovation is in the Conservative DNA.  Only by restating our core Conservative values can we secure the jobs and economic growth our country requires.